Needful Things

*originally posted 2010 on another site

I’d say I’m a pretty solid Stephen King fan. I’ve read a good chunk of his books, and find The Stand his best by far. Only a few in there that were quite wretched (From a Buick 8, anyone??). But when I went to my well-organized library, I was simply looking for a good story. And Needful Things seemed like a pretty good one at 700 pages long. Granted, it took me a couple months to get through, but I did enjoy it quite a bit.

The poor town of Castle Rock has been the setting of many King stories, and this was an excellent finale for the town. A new store, Needful Things, opens up downtown. It doesn’t seem to have much in stock, but it does seem to have the one thing that your heart desires. For example, young Brian Rusk wants a Sandy Koufax card more than anything in the world. Needful Things happens to have it. And what do you know, the card is even autographed! Mr. Gaunt, the owner of Needful Things, asks for a nominal price, and the card becomes Brian’s. Just one more thing. Brian must play a prank on another person in town. Someone he doesn’t know and probably has never met. Brian is asked to throw mud on a lady’s sheets. Innocent enough, but that’s where it all begins. Mr. Gaunt somehow knows how to pit enemies against each other. When the mud lady sees her ruined sheets, she automatically assumes it was done by her mortal enemy. And of course the enemy has a prank played on her, and she assumes it was done by the mud lady. Craziness ensues.

The characters literally go insane with jealousy, revenge, envy, wrath, and a few of the other deadly sins. Seems like Mr. Gaunt isn’t just a regular guy.

The resolution is quite explosive in a variety of ways, and the reader isn’t disappointed with the insane amount of horrifying acts in this book. It’s a pretty solid effort by King. Good story, good violence, good creativity.

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When You Reach Me

*originally posted 2010 on another site

I’m always curious to read current young adult lit, and Amazon recommended this one that came out almost a year ago. So, I had some money on Itunes and ended up buying the app of the book for my phone. And, to be honest, I much prefer the Kindle app than just any random book app. This one was disappointing. That said, the book was awesome.

Miranda and Sal have been BFFs forever until Sal gets punched by a kid, almost cries, then says he doesn’t want to be Miranda’s friend anymore. She’s confused by this but finds other friends, namely the kid who punched Sal, Marcus. Miranda and Marcus have an odd friendship formed over their mutual favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. Marcus teaches Miranda about hypothetical time-travel, and Miranda tries to understand why Marcus punched Sal. Meanwhile, Miranda’s mother is going to be on $20,000 Pyramid and practices every night. Cleverly, the titles of the chapters are possible Pyramid categories (Things You Pack, etc). Miranda begins getting mysterious notes in her bag, pocket, etc and begins to wonder who is following her, or worse, who knows her deepest secrets. It’s not until the end of the book does everything come together, but it does in a great way.

This isn’t a very long book, and it definitely kept me reading to see how it would all make sense in the end. It wasn’t a disappointment at all. Don’t buy the app for this book, but read it nonetheless.

Same Kind of Different as Me

*originally posted 2010 on another site

I was a little skeptical of this book and for good reason. It’s certainly heartwarming, but that’s just not something I enjoy reading most of the time. The book starts out strong but becomes more and more depressing as it continues. It was to the point that I was reading it just to be finished with it.

The story is told from two narrators: Ron- a wealthy white man in Ft. Worth and Denver- a homeless black man in the same town. They tell their own stories for a bit, and these were my favorite part. I enjoyed learning where they both started their lives. They are very short vignettes, so I could easily use some in the classroom. Ron meets his wife, Debbie, and after several years of marriage, she decides that God has told her to do some good in life. Now, I’m not the religious type, so this book quickly lost its appeal simply because the level of Christianity mentioned. I’d rather hear of people who helped the homeless because they wanted to, rather than because God led them down that path. In any case, the friendship that was formed was meaningful and true. Ron and Denver became reluctant friends, but each found something special within the other.

Halfway through the book, Debbie is diagnosed with cancer. There’s where the fun ends. It went downhill for me at that point. I just don’t enjoy reading about people’s sadness.

I imagine this book is inspirational to a lot of people, which is perfectly understandable. It just isn’t my thing…

The Poisonwood Bible

*originally posted 2010 on another site.

I was a little leery about reading this book. Too many people loved it, and it was an Oprah Book Club selection. I’ve read several of her picks, and ugh, are they awful. She’s gotten better (I actually have two other of her picks on my summer reading list), but most everything she has recommended was something I truly disliked. This book, however, didn’t suck at all! Shocking, I know.

The Price family, consisting of a father, mother, and 4 daughters are missionaries in the Congo during the 1950s. Devout doesn’t even begin to describe the father. The girls are frequently punished by having to write Bible verses over and over. This story is told from the perspective of the girls while they are in Africa, and from the mother after they have left. Rachel is the oldest, snobbiest, and hates Africa. Leah constantly seeks her father’s attention, but never truly receives it, so she is forced to find her own path. Adeh, is Leah’s twin, was born with brain damage, limps, and is brilliant. Ruth May is the youngest and the most inquisitive about her new surroundings.

As much as they want to go to Africa, do their Christian duty, and head back home, Africa simply won’t let them. They experience love and loss, and no matter how hard they try, they cannot leave Africa behind. It stays with them for the rest of their lives.

I usually don’t enjoy books with multiple narrators, but this is an exception. While reading, I kept thinking how great it would be to use as an example of voice in the classroom. As much as I was dreading this book, I quickly breezed through it and did enjoy it quite a bit.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

I do not like horses. I don’t want to ride one. I don’t want to go see the race. I have no desire to ever be around a horse. And I know absolutely nothing about them. That said, I get the attraction. They are intelligent and beautiful animals. And I have a lot of respect for horses and how they have contributed to our history.

I knew absolutely nothing about Seabiscuit before reading this book. And I could not stop talking about what I learned. This book was absolutely fascinating, and I cannot recommend it highly enough, even if you aren’t a horse person, like me. The story explains how Seabiscuit was purchased, a history of the owners, a history of the jockey and information about jockeys in general from the time period, Seabiscuit’s strengths and weaknesses, all in complete transparency. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, does a great job making this story appeal to all readers.

Fun facts: Seabiscuit never ran the Triple Crown because he was too old by the time he got his act together and was able to race. His biggest competitor, War Admiral, was actually his uncle. More newspaper column space in 1938 was spent on Seabiscuit over FDR, Hitler, or Mussolini. And you really can’t imagine what jockeys do to themselves to maintain a low weight. Ammonia in their soda is just the tip of the iceberg.

I could not believe how much I loved this book and was completely captivated by it. I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially if you aren’t a horse person. You will learn so much.

A Tale for the Time Being

I like to read in the car when I’m waiting to pick my kids up from school. There are no distractions. I don’t have the internet beyond what’s on my phone, but I have most data turned off so I can’t really use any apps. I could be listening to podcasts, but that’s just not engaging enough. So, I keep a book in my car that I only read during pick up. This method works pretty well and gives me a good chunk of time to read because pick up lines are long. I read A Tale for the Time Being in its entirety while sipping tea and eating Belvita biscuits and waiting. And what a fun book it was to read.

Ruth lives in Canada on a remote island filled with interesting people who are the nosy sort. While walking along the beach, she finds a bag of books. One is a diary of a young Japanese girl. The others are related to the diary. The girl, Nao, is miserable. She used to live in the states, but when the technology world crashed with the economic recession, her family was forced to move back to Japan. She was bullied, and her dad was out-of-work. Nao spends the summer with her great-grandmother who is a Buddhist nun and learns her own superpowers. Meanwhile, Ruth is a struggling writer with a brain block she can’t undo. She makes it her mission to find Nao and connect with her.

The stories alternate with each chapter, but I really looked forward to reading Nao’s sections more, especially once she starts to learn about her family’s history. A friend recommended this book to me ages ago, and I see why. It’s one that is tough to read at times (Nao’s dad doesn’t handle unemployment well) and you really empathize with Nao and her struggles to find herself. But I really enjoyed this book.

Baker’s Magic

It’s rare that I read a middle school book that doesn’t drive me nuts. Most of them contain so much teenage slang and silliness that I don’t make it past the first few pages. Absolutely nothing wrong with slang and silliness, but it’s not for me. I listened to Baker’s Magic over the course of a few weeks, so I apologize if the character names aren’t spelled the same in the book, and I was so delighted by this book. The characters are fun, the plot is creative, and it’s totally appropriate for middle school kids (and older, of course) who just want a fun story without a lot of drama and nonsense.

Bee is an orphan girl who steals from a bakery, gets caught, and gets a job. Mr. Bouts, the baker, takes pity on her and offers her an apprenticeship in his bakery. Bee quickly learns how to make assorted goods and discovers a bit of magic. She can bake her feelings into the goods. If she feels scared while baking, the eater will feel scared. Her goods are requested by the mage at the castle, so Bee heads off to deliver and ends up meeting the very sweet, Princess Annika.

Annika confided in Bee that she is to be married off to an old man. The mage is dispensing Annika so he can rule the kingdom himself. The mage is a terrible person who got rid of all the trees in the kingdom, and now the kingdom is washing away.

Bee and Annika and Bee’s friend, Vill, head off in search of help and get discovered by pirates, make a few important discoveries, and learn the true meaning of family and friendship. I loved this book. It was fun and sweet and just a great well-written story. If you are looking for a book for your middle-grade student or child, this one will be a hit.